John Hoover

Ask Hoover: Who will OU’s next DC be? Should OSU be optimistic? Will Les win at Kansas?

Ask Hoover: Who will OU’s next DC be? Should OSU be optimistic? Will Les win at Kansas?

University of Kansas new football coach Les Miles makes a statement during a news conference in Lawrence, Kan., Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Based on this week’s Ask Hoover queries, the Oklahoma fan base seems to have begun the process of moving on.

I wrote last week that Sooner Nation needs to forget about the playoff — in addition to winning Friday’s game in Morgantown, OU’s greatest hopes are now down to Ohio State beating Michigan and Notre Dame losing to USC — and accept the selection committee’s notion of a one-dimensional team like OU being relegated to the Sugar Bowl.

So quite a few questions this week were centered on OU’s next defensive coordinator, and one actually asked about a Sugar Bowl matchup with Georgia.

OU-WVU is 7 p.m. on ESPN, while OSU plays Saturday afternoon at TCU. The Frogs need a win to get bowl eligible, while OSU is trying to finish 7-5. Tulsa concludes its season with a home game against rival SMU, also at 2:30 p.m.

Happy Thanksgiving. Let’s get to the questions:

 

Best question of the week. So let’s try to answer it.

Freeman might very well emerge as a leading candidate. He’s 32 years old, was schooled in the Big Ten (played linebacker at Ohio State) and has been Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator the last two years under Luke Fickell.

This year, the Bearcats are 14th nationally in scoring defense, 10th in total defense, ninth against the run, 22nd against the pass, fourth in third-down defense, fifth in first downs allowed, 32nd in red zone defense, 41st in sacks and 53rd in tackles for loss.

All this against a conference that features three of college football’s top seven offenses and six of the top 35.

Coming from Cincinnati, Freeman would certainly be within OU’s price range.

I don’t know what kind of recruiter Freeman is, but as a guy who played for the Buckeyes and had a cup of coffee in the NFL just within the last decade, he’s of the age that would seem to relate well to players.

The guess here is that Riley gives him a look.

 

This is the third time I’ve heard this question about Alabama’s Pete Golding (through various channels) this week. So the rumor seems to be going around.

Now, is it true? Is there fire behind this particular smoke? No one in Norman is saying — off the record, anyway. On the record, Lincoln Riley said this week he’s though “zero” about hiring his new defensive coordinator because there’s a game this week—on a six-day window, no less. So I buy that, to a degree. It also seems unlikely that Golding is burning up his cell phone battery talking to Riley, what with the Crimson Tide having a pretty important game against Auburn this week.

Now, has Golding’s agent reached out to Riley? Has OU’s director of football ops reached out to Golding? Those are entirely likely. Golding’s agent floating his client’s name out there for various openings is only good business.

Golding is 34 years old and came up through the ranks at places like Delta State, Tusculum, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Miss and UTSA. His Roadrunner defenses were productive.

Just to be clear, Golding is ‘Bama’s co-coordinator. Tosh Lupoi calls the defensive signals. Lupoi’s salary is $1.1 million, while Golding’s 2018 salary is on a three-year deal worth $650,000 a year.

Would OU pay him enough to leave an Alabama job where he wins national championships to come to an Oklahoma job that is in total rebuild mode and does battle in the Big 12 Conference?

 

Depends on your definition of optimism.

Conference championship, NY6 bowl or playoff? Not very. Not with another change at quarterback and no Justice Hill and a defense that needs to be retooled after (currently) ranking 101st in the nation. Not with a head coach who seems less and less invested each year.

There may be hope in that the rest of the Big 12 Conference might take a step back. OU will lose Kyler Murray, arguably the best player in the country. West Virginia will lose Will Grier, arguably the nation’s best pro prospect. Texas Tech brings back Alan Bowman, but the Red Raiders are hardly imposing. Texas brings back Sam Ehlinger but the Longhorns will be flawed. The rest of the Big 12 won’t be anything to fear.

So a run at a conference title might be in the cards if Mike Gundy gets intense again and if Dru Brown or Spencer Sanders can produce at quarterback and if the Cowboys find a serviceable running game. Otherwise, another 9-3/8-4 type of season might be the best this program can hope for.

 

As mentioned above, Alabama’s Pete Golding might be a strong candidate. So might Marcus Freeman from Cincinnati. And we keep hearing the name Alex Grinch, currently the co-DC at Ohio State (Grinch signed a two-year extension in January that pays him a base salary of $800,000 a year; that’s likely out of OU’s price range).

Would Iowa State’s Jon Heacock take another job in conference? What about LSU’s Dave Aranda (that seems a serious longshot)? I’ve thrown out Cal’s Tim DeRuyter, though he might not fit if Lincoln Riley goes with a youth movement. Utah’s Morgan Scalley is both young (39) and affordable ($525,000), and the Utes have played good defense this year.

 

Let’s assume all three finish 7-2. OU gets left out because they’d have lost to both WVU and Texas. Simple as that.

Unless Texas loses to Kansas, OU-WVU is a winner-take-all showdown for the final spot in the Big 12 championship game.

 

This made me laugh, but then I started thinking about it.

Maybe.

I remember the Sooners beat up on Iowa State in 2006, but Adrian Peterson was lost for the rest of the regular season with a broken collarbone. That one felt pretty hollow, knowing OU faced the back half of its schedule without its best player.

There have been plenty of wins over the years that Sooner Nation complained about. But on the heels of the Tech and OSU games, these complaints — about the OU defense possibly costing this team a shot at a championship — are all legitimate.

 

No, I think fans recognize that Riley realizes this is exactly what he signed up for. He said on June 7, 2017, that he would not relinquish play-calling duties, and he’s not about to.

Bob Stoops was never going to fire his brother, no matter how bad the Sooner defense got. He left that task to Riley, and Riley probably waited too long — hoping against hope Mike Stoops could turn things around and salvage the season. Finding Mike another job in 2017 would have been the most professional way to handle it. Finding him another job after the 2017 season would have been the most humane way to handle it. But Riley’s personal feelings and debt of gratitude toward his old boss stayed his hand. It’s really hard to fault Riley for that, although loyalty is what got Bob Stoops in trouble in 2013-14.

Firing Mike at midseason wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing to do. It was Riley’s first big decision in the big chair. Now he must make another tough call to actually get things fixed.

 

Let’s remember, Les Miles is an offensive coach. Played offensive line under Bo Schembechler at Michigan, was offensive coordinator under Bob Simmons and was the Dallas Cowboys tight ends coach. And let’s also remember, Les won’t have access to the type of defensive recruits in Lawrence that he had in Baton Rouge.

But yes, I do expect Kansas to get a moderate defensive upgrade.

If Les can get into Texas and find a quarterback (he couldn’t at LSU) and tap into his Louisiana resources for some elite wide receivers (he somehow got tons of them at LSU), the Jayhawks will be instantly better. Can they be competitive in the Big 12? To a degree. At 65, does Les have enough in the tank for a 4- or 5-year complete overhaul that allows KU to challenge for a conference title? Probably not.

 

Lincoln Riley was noncommittal this week, and with the short week, he didn’t give his usual Wednesday post-practice interviews.

The guess here is no, although I’ve said that before about Sermon and he got up like The Terminator (Sermonator?). He’s hard to get down, and he’s obviously hard to keep down.

 

That’s the million-dollar question, and has been for a decade. The Big 12’s recruiting footprint must draw from Texas, and that state’s migration to 7-on-7 camps and elite quarterback play has simply deemphasized high-level defensive line play. There are still a lot of great defensive prospects in Texas, but there aren’t nearly as many as there used to be.

Couple that with Texas A&M’s migration to the SEC — SEC schools now have access to Texas’ best defensive talent, and they know their goal of playing in the NFL is much more likely if they play college football in that league — and it just doesn’t look good for the Big 12.

Maybe if the Big 12 expanded into an SEC stronghold — I don’t know, say, Florida? — then the Big 12 might have a chance to rebuild its sagging defensive reputation. Imagine all those Sunshine State recruits who weren’t offered by UF, FSU or Miami deciding to stay home and play in the Big 12 Conference at a school like Central Florida or South Florida.

 

That’s a great question. I love speculating.

OU would be favored against Georgia by 1-2 points. Oddsmakers would expect another high-scoring clash like last year’s game in Pasadena. The Bulldogs aren’t loaded offensive like last year, and their defense isn’t as good without Roquan Smith and a few others. I see OU winning a shootout.

 

Absolutely. Les is the only coach in the Big 12 with a national championship on his resume. That’s not to suggest he’s winning a national title in Lawrence, but he’s obviously a good enough coach to have won one and played for another.

Maybe more germane to the point is that Les has rebuilt a program in the Big 12 before. OSU wasn’t nearly as bad as Kansas is now, but the Cowboys’ culture was pretty downtrodden. OSU fans held Bob Simmons in high regard because he could beat OU even though Simmon’s teams before Miles went 4-8, 5-6, 8-4, 5-6, 5-6 and 3-8.

Les came in and changed the culture completely. He not only won games (his teams were 4-7, 8-5, 9-4 an 7-5), but he beat OU too — elite OU teams that would have played for national championships if not for Miles’ Bedlam victories.

He won’t chase championships, but all you need to do to “change the culture completely” at Kansas is go to a bowl game once in a while and beat Kansas State. He’ll do that.

 

No doubt. This is absolutely paramount, and even more so now that teams have an early signing period. Riley said he’s thought “zero” about a new defensive coordinator, and to a degree, that’s believable. There is a game tomorrow.

But in reality, firing Mike Stoops at midseason shows recruits that Riley is thinking about his new DC a lot, and the questions they’ve had for him so far are largely aimed at his timetable for finding a replacement. They want to know who their leader is going to be for the next four years, and if Riley is going to have names on the dotted line come December, he’s going to have to move quickly on hiring a DC.

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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